For those of us lucky enough to live on Long Island (especially during the summer months), there’s plenty of time to explore everything our beautiful home has to offer. But for families who might be coming in for just a few days, it's essential to make the most of your time here. With that in mind, we’ve come up with our top seven must-see locations for those taking a quick trip to Long Island, from top museums and an aquarium to beaches and lighthouses.
Exploring these places—and we've included both indoor and outdoor fun so you don't have to worry about the weather—will leave you making plans for another visit ASAP. And for more to do in the area, be sure to check out our Events Calendar and Long Island Spring Fun Guide.
Long Island is known for its beautiful beaches, but Jones Beach is a particular favorite because of its wide, sandy beach and family-friendly amenities.
1. Jones Beach – Wantagh
Long Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and one of our favorites is Jones Beach. Why? Because visitors can easily spend the entire day here—and not just relaxing in the sun and swimming in the ocean. Families can also stroll the boardwalk, fish, visit an historic exhibit, eat at one of the many concession stands, play a round of mini golf, shuffleboard and basketball or learn about the marine environment at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center. You might also want to see if there is a concert going on so you can score some tickets at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, and there’s also free music at the bandshell (Tuesday is kids night) and a lighted playground near Field 6.
2. Montauk Lighthouse – Montauk
The oldest lighthouse in the state (and the fourth-oldest active lighthouse in the United States), Montauk Lighthouse is located on the easternmost point of Long Island, offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean where it meets the Block Island Sound. After taking a tour of the lighthouse’s history and climbing to the top (children must be 41 inches tall to climb the tower), families can head across the way to Montauk Point State Park to hike nature trails, watch the seals sun on the rocks offshore, visit the playground, picnic, surf and more.
Sip wine at Martha Clara Vineyards while the kids enjoy live music, farm animals and more.
3. North Fork Wineries – East End
While you’re out East, take a tour through some of Long Island’s family-friendly wineries. The North Fork wine country is predominantly family-owned and -operated, kid- and pet-friendly, and bustling with activity on a weekend afternoon. Almost all of the North Fork vineyards welcome families, but there are a few specific locales that offer wide-open space for picnics and play, live music, and even farm animals to keep the kids entertained while you enjoy some vino. And for more things to do in the area, check out our Hamptons and North Fork Guide.
Meet the penguins at the Long Island Aquarium.
4. Long Island Aquarium – Riverhead
There’s plenty to do in Riverhead (Splish Splash, outlet shopping, the LI Science Center), but who doesn't love a visit to the aquarium? The Long Island Aquarium boasts both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including a touch tank, butterfly exhibit, Amazon Rainforest exhibit, penguin pavilion, seals and the beloved sea lion show.
5. Planting Fields Arboretum – Oyster Bay
Planting Fields is one of the few remaining Gold Coast estates on Long Island's North Shore that retains its original 409 acres. Along with the gorgeous formal gardens (perfect for photos!), there’s also hiking trails, two greenhouses, tours through the historic buildings and a new Sensory Garden, where visitors can enjoy multisensory experiences, including sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. There are usually plenty of family-friendly events, especially on the weekends, so be sure to check the calendar before you visit.
The 10,000-square-foot Nassau County Firefighters Museum lets kids explore fire trucks and learn about fire safety.
6. Museum Row – Garden City
Museum Row in Garden City is home to three of the best museums on Long Island: the Long Island Children’s Museum, Cradle of Aviation and the Nassau County Firefighters Museum. LICM has hands-on exhibits and galleries, including the popular bubble room, a two-story climbing structure, communication station and an outdoor play/explore area. Cradle of Aviation chronicles Long Island’s long history and major role in aviation and aerospace and features aircraft used during the early development of flight, as well as aircraft from World Wars I and II all the way up through the lunar landing and beyond. The museum is also home to an IMAX theatre. The Firefighters Museum is a nearly 10,000 square foot interactive facility where you can experience and trace the history of firefighting in Nassau County. Kids can crawl low in smoke, stop-drop-roll, plan your escape, explore fire trucks from every era and take in the beautiful 9/11 memorial. And when you’re done exploring these three locations, stop next door to take a ride on the historic Nunley’s Carousel (only $2 per ride!).
7. Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium – Centerport
Space enthusiasts will love coming to the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium to enjoy a spectacular sky show, astronomy program or the Rock ‘n’ Light show. During the summer, there’s music, dance, Shakespeare and children’s theater on-hand. Families can also tour the mansion and museum, stroll the gardens and tour the marine museum and animal habitats.
Top photo: The Montauk Lighthouse is a must-see. Photo by Adam Moss via Flickr/creative commons